Hello, Is It Me You’re Looking For?

So we’ve safely established in this series how to embrace your single season and wait for the right person. I can hear some of you saying, “But how do I know if they’re the right person?” I’m glad you asked.

There are a ton of books out there around this particular topic. I’ve read several excellent books with a Christian perspective on what to look for and what should be your deal-breakers. I’m not going to repeat all that stuff. However, there is one thing that is worth discussing at length.

The most important thing to look for in a partner. Something worth its weight in gold. Something more important than looks, attraction, or even personality. Chivalry can’t even touch it. This one thing will determine the success or failure of a potential relationship more than any other factor. Have you guessed it yet?

I’m talking about character. It’s the one thing we don’t talk nearly enough about in terms of dating, but will have the greatest impact on your relationship. Think about it. If a man has integrity, he won’t cheat. If a woman is honest, she won’t lie. If your partner has strong character, they won’t put you in a compromising or harmful situation. Character is what will determine how your partner treats you. Physical attraction waxes and wanes, but how a person treats you will have a lasting effect.

How many of us have fallen for someone charismatic, physically attractive, or with a great personality? I’m willing to bet all of us at some point. But charm and charisma alone, can’t be trusted. If they’re charming you, they could likely be charming someone else. My favorite example of this is a line from the Broadway musical turned big picture, “Into The Woods,” when Cinderella catches Prince Charming cheating…

As for physical attraction, that can change over time as we age. I’ve seen sad stories of people who left their spouse because of physically altering accident. True love, the kind that lasts, isn’t there only because of outward beauty. Proverbs 31:30 addresses this well, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised.” Men aren’t exempt, though. It goes both ways. A partner who fears the Lord (has a real relationship with God and genuine, good character) is of far more value than anything else.

So how do you find someone of good, strong character? “Where have all the good ones gone?!” I hear some of you lamenting. It’s simple really. The only way you will be able to find someone of good character is to BE someone of good character. Because people of good character have already figured out how important it is to find someone who values integrity, honor, and compassion. So naturally, they are looking for someone who exhibits those same values. Like attracts like.

So how do you become a person of good character? What are good character traits? Start by reading the book of Proverbs. It is a book full of wisdom. And that will set you in the right direction.

“May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.” ~Philemon 1:11

You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You

I love me some Michael Bublé. He does an amazing cover of the above titled song. Dean Martin sang the original swoony, croony tune. As much as I love the song, it’s just not true. You’re NOT nobody until somebody loves you.

As silly as it seems to state the obvious, this flawed way of thinking is more prevalent than you may at first realize. Love songs definitely push the idea that our value is found in what the object of our affection feels toward us. You’re thinking, even if it’s not totally true, it sounds good or just rhymes well in a song. Okay. Fine. But Disney movies, romantic dramas and comedies, by in large, tell us that our “happily ever after” comes only when we meet Prince Charming. Disney and Nicholas Sparks have effectively ruined a generation’s expectations and values in relationships.

Between movies, music, pop culture, and society, we are told from a very young age (especially as women) that our highest and best purpose is marriage. Therefore, if you’re not married you must be defective. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the following conversation:

Me: “You know ‘So and so’ is single.”

Other Person: “Really? How old is he [or she]?”

Me: (ballpark age)

Other Person: (If the age is over 30ish) “What’s wrong with him [or her]?”

Me: (Laughing) “What’s wrong with me, then?”

Other Person: Immediate, profuse backpedaling

We have been so indoctrinated to think that love or marriage have to happen by a certain age. And if not, there must be something innately wrong with the person. They somehow offer less value as a potential romantic interest. I’m here to tell you that is a big, steaming pile of crap!

You were loved and valued by the Creator from the very moment you were conceived. He has loved you from the beginning and will love you to the end. No matter your mistakes or character defects, God’s love is eternal and truly unconditional. He extends the greatest gift: a personal relationship with Him. That is the only relationship worth finding your value in.

In your single season, seek out what your value is in Christ. (I could tell you, but where’s the fun in that?) Who does He say you are? What is your personal and specific purpose on the planet? What is God’s plan and will for your life? What are the character defects He would like to help you eliminate?

Once you’ve discovered the answers to these questions, I would contend that you bring MORE substance into a future relationship. When you know who you are and where your value is found, you’re less likely to obsess or settle. You also understand how much God loves your partner and can offer grace authentically without being a doormat.

Those who believe they are nobody till somebody loves them tend to be what I call “serial daters.” They hop from one serious relationship straight to the next without any healing time in between. They’re never single long enough to even begin to explore who they are on their own. And why would they? They’re convinced their value on the relationship stock market begins to plummet the minute their Facebook status goes back to “single.” I knew someone once that treated relationships like most people treat a job: She wouldn’t quit one until she had the next opportunity lined up. You may be laughing at that analogy, but it was heartbreaking and frustrating to watch.

One of the most obvious problems for serial daters is that they don’t take the time to process and analyze why the previous relationship didn’t work out. Instead, they drag their hurts and baggage from one relationship into the next, building up a stockpile of relational damage.

I’ve never been a serial dater, but I realized that I was “masking” my hurts by “going out with the girls” in an unhealthy way. In my mid-twenties I would go out a lot. Karaoke, ladies’ nights, or just dinner with the girls. Nothing wild or crazy. I’m just an extrovert and needed to be around friends. Or at least that’s what I told myself. God showed me that I was using “girl time” to avoid being alone. In turn, I was avoiding my own healing process. I would do anything to not be stuck at home, especially when my son was visiting his dad. I couldn’t bear the thought of the total quiet. Because then I’d have to deal with what was going on in my head and heart.

Solitude is not a bad thing. Nowadays I enjoy it. That’s where God can speak to my heart without distraction. That’s where He can gently encourage and love my soul. That quiet “alone” place is where I find peace. It’s where I’m reminded of who I am: a daughter of the Most High King. There is my value. In Him who made me and loves me more than any man ever can.

“How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!” ~Psalm 139:17-18

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places

If I could sum up my previous dating experiences in a single phrase, the above line from an old country western song would be it. Needless to say, I’ve dated the wrong way- the world’s way. I’ve tried online dating, blind dates, and “shopping” for dates at the local bar scene. But the problem with my dating blunders wasn’t so much the places as it was the looking.

Last week, I talked about where to place our focus (on Jesus) whether single or attached. Well, the problem with dating in the way I’d experienced before was that it first caused me to take my focus off of God and start looking to and fro for a person. Mistake #1.

As the title implies, looking for love in all the wrong places leads no where. It only brings more heartache. As they say in the real estate business, “location, location, location!” Mistake #2.

Many years ago, my dad said, “If you look for a husband in a bar, you might find an alcoholic.” Boy was he right! I met my son’s dad at a bar, through a co-worker who I worked with at (you guessed it) a bar. He was an alcoholic through and through. He always wanted to go to the bar on weekends, drank 6-12 beers 7 nights a week, and when I was ready to settle down, he was still out carousing and partying. He was the life of the party. And the charisma and charm that drew me to him at the bar became harsh words and heavy drinking in our home. My dad had tried to warn me with a common sense quip. My dad was right. I should’ve listened. Mistake #3.

Several weeks ago a single friend of mine asked if I “put myself out there” and where does a good christian girl meet a good christian guy. Short answer: not the bar! I’m not saying EVERY person who goes to a bar is an alcoholic. Nor am I saying every person who goes to church is a saint. However, the odds of meeting someone who is authentically seeking God are far higher in one than the other.

Now I can hear someone saying, “Stop everything! You want me to look for a date at CHURCH?!” Yes. And no. You’re probably imagining singing songs during a worship service while looking up and down the rows of people, hoping to see an eligible bachelor that makes eye contact with you. And right there during the chorus of “How Great Thou Art,” you give the call-me-maybe hand sign.

No. Don’t. Just stop.

Let’s back up for just a moment. My parents have been married for nearly 40 years. They have one of the most beautiful relationships I’ve witnessed. They adore each other to this day and are true life partners. They’ve been through a lot and they have never bailed on each other or hurt one another intentionally. Guess where they met? That’s right. Church. Now, they weren’t hunting for partners. They were in a Bible study together; strictly friends for a year before they ever talked about taking their relationship to the next level. Then they dated for a year before my dad FINALLY proposed to my mom.

The beauty of their story is that they were friends FIRST. He knew her background. She knew his character. They had the same circle of friends, so there were no surprises. He knew she wasn’t going to turn psycho out of nowhere and she knew he wasn’t going to turn out to be an abusive jerk. There were no facades to try to impress one another. It happened naturally and S-L-O-W-L-Y.

Don’t start trolling your church foyer. That’s creepy. You should be attending church to learn more about and draw closer to God. First and foremost, keep your priorities straight. Do get involved with things that are important to you. Serve at your church. Volunteer with ministries and organizations where you feel you can contribute. Enrich your life with things that matter and when God’s perfect timing strikes, the right person will notice you.

It’s not so much about searching for the right person as it is about focusing on God while becoming the right person. Then and only then can He open your eyes to see what’s right in front of you.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”   ~Matthew 6:33

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

The Apostle Paul, who was unmarried, said this in Colossians 7:32-35, “I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.”

I had a hard time with that scripture for many years because, quite honestly, I’ve always desired to be married and have a healthy, whole relationship with a partner for life. It wasn’t until the FIFTH consecutive year of being single and seeking God’s kingdom first that the lightbulb came on. I’m a slow learner, I know.

First, Paul very clearly says that this is a suggestion, not a commandment or restriction. He’s just saying, “Hey, this is my recommendation.” That always made it easy for me to brush off this segment of scripture. I could say, “Well, that’s his opinion because he was single. So of course, he’d suggest everyone do it his way.” But what he’s really saying is that Christ should be our central and foremost focus.

Second, my deep revelation about this scripture had less to do with the married versus unmarried aspect, but more to do with the heart condition. I realized it has more to do with where our focus is. God’s greatest concern is always for our heart and if it is turned toward Him.

If we truly call ourselves Christ followers, we must follow Jesus first, above all else. Dating, marriage, and relationships can be a distraction from our primary focus. Though that’s not always the case. And romantic relationships aren’t the only culprit. Many things can distract us from our relationship with God. Television, friendships, activities, and even our own kids can be a distraction from God.

I’m not saying you need to cancel your cable, disconnect your phone, and move to Tibet. What I am saying is that it’s important to look at all of the distractions in our lives and take note of what/who is pulling our eyes away from Jesus. What or who is leading you away from God rather than drawing you closer? And then the tough one: What do I need to give up partially or completely in order to draw nearer to Christ?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”    ~Hebrews 12:1

To Every Season Turn, Turn, Turn

Life is made up of seasons. After winter is spring. After spring comes summer. After summer is fall. And so it goes. We learn this in kindergarten. Yet it takes us until much later in adulthood to realize how profoundly true it is in every area of our lives. There are times of abundance and times of lack. Friendships that ebb and flow. The tide rises and then it falls. As the late, great Jim Rohn said on the topic, “…When you get your own planet, you can set it up any way you like, but as long as you’re on this one, it’s just the way it is.”

You can either enjoy each season as it is, while it lasts or you can spend your life miserable, fighting against the rising and setting of the sun. You know those people that are always wishing things were different? If it’s summer, they wish it was winter. When it’s snowing, they wish it was 70 degrees. If it’s night, they wish it was daytime. If they’re married, they wish they were single. If they landed a new job, they want the next big promotion. And if they had a car, they wish it was a plane. They’re miserable no matter what because nothing is as they want it to be. We all know someone like that. They could be living in Tahiti, sipping Mai Tai’s and undoubtedly praying for snow.

Many of us fall into this trap. We want to get to the next stage. We want to hurry up the process and move to greener pastures. But in doing so we miss out on the beauty around us right now. I’m a planner. So I totally get it. I’ve fallen into this snare more than once myself. Hoping for things to change, wishing for circumstances to be different, pressing toward a goal. But I missed out on the season I was in. Change comes. It’s inevitable. Circumstances will always shift. And while ambition is great, it can also lead to discontentment.

Singledom is also a season. You can choose to embrace it and enjoy the season of getting to know yourself, your Creator, and who He made you to be. You can maximize your time of learning who you are, Who God is, and what He has planned for you. Or you can get caught up in discontentment, missing the beautiful perspective and priorities that being single allows you.

Think about it. As a single, unattached person, you can come and go as you please. You can cook whatever you want for dinner. Or not cook at all. You have the freedom to serve and volunteer as much as you want. You can go to lunch with your friends without a second thought. Whether you have children or not, as a single person, you have certain freedoms that are easy to take for granted. You can sit up in your bed until 2am, reading your Bible and writing on your computer with the lights on… Hypothetically.

Enjoy those freedoms. Embrace this season of singledom. If for no other reason, so that when the time comes to be in a relationship, you can move fully into that next season without regrets.

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” ~Ecclesiastes 3:1

One Is The Loneliest Number

When I found myself single again and broken by an abusive relationship nearly 6 years ago, I swore I would do things differently. I would do things “God’s way.” That sounded great in theory, but how? And what does that even look like? I had learned well what NOT to do. My battered heart and body were obvious signs of that. How would I know what a good, godly man and relationship might be like? How could I even conceive of being vulnerable again? What’s healthy and what’s not? My mind was a jumble of questions. But I was determined in one thing: to choose something better.

It’s been a long journey, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. After having a series of conversations with single women recently, asking many of the above questions, I realized how much I have grown. And while I don’t have all the answers, I do have some wisdom on the topics of singledom, dating with dignity, and honoring God in the process.

I’m reminded of the Three Dog Night song as referenced in the title, “One Is the Loneliest Number.” I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s lonely being single. That part can suck. But I also remind myself of the rest of the lyrics in the chorus, “…two can be as bad as one, it’s the loneliest number since the number one.” Have you ever been in a relationship like that? I’ve sat on the same couch and felt miles away from my partner. There’s nothing worse than being in a relationship that still leaves you feeling empty and lonely.

So often I have conversations with single friends who are jealous of those who are coupled up and I remind them that loneliness, just like singledom is a choice. I’d rather be single and occasionally deal with pains of loneliness than hop into the first relationship opportunity just to change my Facebook status, yet still feel lonely.

More importantly, as a Christ follower, it is imperative to make the distinction between loneliness and being alone. I am never truly alone as a Christ follower. He is my Source, Comforter, and Lover of my Soul. Looking to a relationship to fill the “loneliness void” points to a greater issue. Another person can’t make me feel whole or complete. Only God can fix us. There are times when I feel lonely. But I’m never alone.

The longer I have been single, though, the more I have learned to focus my attention on God. I seek Him to fulfill my needs, not another person. God has placed some amazing friends in my life who hold me accountable and point me to Jesus. But ultimately, my relationship with Jesus is my own. When I have moments of loneliness, rather than scoping the dating websites or calling a friend, I turn to God in prayer. I search my heart to honestly assess where those feelings are coming from. Then I ask Holy Spirit to comfort me and remove any feelings of insecurity, loneliness, or envy of couples.

When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. ~Psalm 94:19 [NLT]

Fix You

Let me start by saying I am a huge Coldplay fan. I love their soothing ballads. The song with the above title, “Fix You,” is no exception. However, in pondering the message (and many songs like it), I shouldn’t be surprised by the epidemic of codependency I see in the world.

At it’s core, codependency says, “my happiness is directly dependent on the happiness of another.” More so, a codependent person will go to great lengths to “fix,” please and ultimately enable the object of their codependency. We mistakenly convince ourselves that if we love someone enough, they’ll get better. Much like the aforementioned song implies. What’s worse, is when the other party doesn’t change, we blame ourselves.

So why all this talk of codependency? Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s talked about in a realistic light enough. Secondly, I see attributes of codependency romanticized in television and social media. For one who has lived through the horrors of it, that is infuriating!! Losing yourself in someone else’s addiction, abuse or insanity is NOT attractive. Yet our society would have us believe it is admirable.

If you are attracted to a person that is a hot mess and your primary focus is to “fix” them or “help” them, you are heading down a very messy, unfulfilling and possibly dangerous road. If the relationship is satisfying your own need to feel needed, it cannot end well.

I only speak from a perspective of one who has been there! One who has confused pity for love. One who had an inexplicable need to find the most “tattered orphan on the side of the road” and nurse them back to health. In my least healthy state, I would jokingly say I was a professional turd polisher.

The most ironic part is when we seek to help someone who is so broken, damaged or tortured by means of a romantic relationship, there can only be one of two outcomes: 1) They never get better. Your helping actually becomes a crutch and enables them to continue their insanity [addiction, abuse, self-destruction]. 2) They do find recovery. You play a vital role in their healing and they become a better person. And as much as they appreciate your help, they move on.

The first outcome is the most frequent one I see (and experienced). It’s a long and “bloody” road. The codependent party blames themselves for the lack of progress and loses themselves in the “project.” Somewhere along the way it becomes all about the other person and their problems.

If you are romantically involved with someone who (regardless of how deep your love and attraction) is a tortured soul and your world revolves around making them better, please see me on the side of the road holding a BIG sign saying, “Danger, Will Robbins!!!”

The second outcome is perhaps more painful. You feel like things are going well. They’re getting the help they need. Their relapses are becoming less and less. The relationship and your partner are moving in a positive direction. And then… BAM! They can’t explain exactly why, but they’re just not feeling it anymore. Maybe it feels to them like you’re growing apart. The sad truth is you played a vital role in their recovery, but now that your purpose has been served, the relationship fizzles. You’re left feeling used and abandoned. All the time you invested into helping that person heal will only benefit someone else.

How do you avoid either of these impossibly disheartening outcomes? Don’t get romantically involved with them in the first place. Completely remove yourself from the situation. Recognize the person  for who they truly are and where they are in life!! Take a realistic assessment of their emotional IQ and ability to be in a mutually beneficial relationship.

This step has eluded me many times! It’s so easy to get swept up in the emotions of it all. The desire to feel needed and wanted blinds us to common sense. I implore you to stop. Take a step back. Analyze the situation. Take the blinders off and look for any unhealthy habits or situations. Does he drink more than you are comfortable with? Is he defensive when you bring it up? Did she recently leave an abusive relationship? Is she looking to you to “rescue” her? Does he push your boundaries? Are you allowed to say “no” without retaliation?

Don’t justify. Don’t excuse. And please don’t ignore your intuition or wise friends’ counsel. It’s hard to hear your best friend ask you the night before your wedding if you’re sure this is what you really want because she’s pretty sure you’ll regret this [yes, that really happened]. But don’t ignore it! The subtle (or glaringly obvious) signs are difficult to recognize when you’re involved with someone. It’s complicated. There are feelings involved. But for your own sanity, be realistic about what you’re potentially signing up for. Save yourself the heartache!

And before you tell me you’re not supposed to judge, that’s crap. Matthew 7:20 says, “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” And that’s in red. Jesus himself actually said, “Judge people. Look at their life. Look at their choices.”

Trust me, I was the queen of turning a blind eye. I thought, “Who am I to judge?! I’m no unblemished lamb. So he drinks too much. He’s not hurting anyone but his own liver…” Or here’s my favorite: “He says he only hit his ex-wife once. But he suspected she was cheating, so it was justified… And he’d never hit me… Right?” We who are prone to codependency can justify bad behaviors 6 ways ’til Sunday. But it doesn’t make bad behavior good. And most importantly, you deserve to be honest with yourself. Love yourself enough to wait for a relationship worthy of your heart.

It may seem glamorous to be a knight in shining armor or Florence Nightingale. But you’re not the Savior. You CAN’T fix people. There is only One who can. And as much as you want to help, you’ll only muck it up. So stop. Let the unhealthy person get well on their own, without you. As painful as it is to walk away, it’s far more painful to invest yourself into someone who is incapable of reciprocating the level of love and commitment you are extending.

In a healthy relationship there should be mutual benefit. Both people growing, changing together and spurring each other toward success. There should be abundant positivity and mutual respect. Perhaps seasons of give and take. But always an outcome of equal levels of investment, care, respect and positivity. Put simply, the good should heavily outweigh the bad. We always talk about finding a person who is an intellectual or spiritual equal, but what about emotional equality? You’re looking for a companion in life, not a humanitarian project to keep you busy for the next who knows how long!

 

 

For more info about the effects of codependency, go to: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/co-dependency